Bird Identification – English Sparrow

Is there a boy or girl in America who does not already know this saucy, keen-witted little gamin who thrives where other birds would starve; who insists upon thrusting himself where he is not wanted, not only in other bird’s houses, but about the cornices, pillars, and shutters of our own, where his noise and dirt drive good housekeepers frantic; who, without any weapons but his boldness and impudence to fight with, fears neither man nor beast, and who multiplies as fast as the rabbit, so that he is rapidly inheriting the earth? Even children who have never been out of the slums know at least this one bird, this ever-present nuisance, for he chirps and chatters as cheerfully in the reeking gutters as in the prettiest gardens; he hops with equal calm about the horse’s feet and trolley cars in crowded city thoroughfares, as he does about flowery fields and quiet country lanes; he will pick at the overflow from garbage pails on the sidewalk in front of teeming tenements and manure on the city pavements with quite as much relish as he will eat the fresh clean seed spilled by a canary, or cake-crumbs from my lady’s hand. Intense cold he endures with cheerful fortitude and as intense mid-summer heat without losing his astonishing vitality. Is it any wonder that a bird so readily adaptable to all sorts of conditions should thrive like a weed and beat his way around the world?

Now that he has gained such headway in this country his extermination is practically impossible, since a single pair of sparrows might have 275,716,983,698 descendants in ten years! It is foolish to talk of ridding the land of these vermin of birddom. The conditions that kept them in check at home are lacking in this great land of freedom and so we Americans must pay the penalty for ignorantly tampering with nature.

Sparrows were first imported into Brooklyn in 1851 to rid the shade trees of inch worms. This feat they accomplished there and in New York with neatness and despatch. Every one fed, petted, and coddled them then. It was not until many years later that their true character came to be thoroughly understood. Then it was found by scientific men in Washington, after the fairest trial any culprits ever received, that not all the insects and weed seeds they destroy compensate for the damage they do in the farmer’s grain fields, to say nothing of their harassing and dispossessing other birds more desirable. But they kill no birds, so we may hope that, in the course of time, our native songsters may pluck up courage to claim their rights and hold their own, learning from the sparrows the important lesson of adaptability.